Issue 35, Final Fringe

Epitaphs

by Matthew Vollmer Issue 29 01.23.2012

#2

here lies a man who felt compelled to visit time and time again the house where he’d spent the majority of his childhood; a house that his parents had built above the intersection of two creeks in a shadowy cove they’d purchased upon moving to a small mountain town; a house made of wood and stone with a sixteen-windowed room on one side that let in the sun and overlooked a rhododendron thicket; a house that smelled often of oranges and baking bread and the deceased’s mother’s perfume; a house whose three unfolding bathroom mirrors opened a corridor into infinity; a house whose vents the deceased inspected for lost toys, staring down the oblivion-dark holes as metallic-smelling wind stung his eyes; a house that figured in one of the deceased’s recurring dreams, in which he rose from a manger (less delusions of grandeur than an obsession with nativity scenes) and watched as a 16mm movie of his home was projected onto a screen, a magical window through which he then vaulted himself, landing upon the mossy, mole-rutted front yard, which he climbed, then up the concrete the stairs and through the house with its dark wood banister and upside-down yellow wallpaper and through the kitchen, and onto the back porch, where he found his mother dancing in a wedding dress; a house which, after his parents had procured a larger and wilder swathe of land in a more remote location, they’d sold to an older woman and her husband (a scientist who had at one time worked for NASA), though it turned out that this man was abusive and the woman herself believed the house to be haunted, a claim that the deceased found beguiling, as he could recall zero instances of actual phantasmagoric activity, though the deceased and his sister had, as kids, engineered their own makeshift haunted houses, hanging tarps from the ceilings to create passageways, lighting candles, smearing their faces with a mixture of bananas and food coloring, tying semitransparent dental floss to old coolers and pulling the strings when visitors walked by, thus revealing the decapitated bodies of dolls, or throwing a wig out of the dark space beneath the stairs, which was supposedly a cave where a crazy woman scalped people, and of course none of this was nearly as scary as the deceased liked to think, and their house was not really haunted—at least that’s what they thought, because the current owner was insisting that there must be a spirit or two in the house and that she had heard cupboards opening and closing and doors opening and closing, had heard something walking on the floor above her when she knew no one was there, a series of events that had lead the woman to decide to contact whatever it was that had been making these noises, so, one night, when she was alone, she’d turned out the lights and lit candles and incense and laid herself down on the couch and said, “Okay, whatever or whoever you are, make yourself known,” after which the door to the attic, which was a place the deceased had been uncomfortable to enter and whose pink insulation and old mothballed clothes and big hefty trunks had remained very clear in his memory, opened and closed several times, an activity that had scared the woman, and so she said, “Stop!” and the door stopped and she felt exhilarated and also quite frightened but now knew for sure there was a spirit living there and somehow she figured out that this particular spirit was a Native American girl who had been buried on the same site as the house and that she had never been given an adequate funeral, so the woman performed some sort of ritual and things have been good ever since, except for the fact that her husband had moved out and away and now the woman lived in the house all by herself and once a year the deceased would go back and take a tour of the place where he’d lived and think how small this house is and how different it looks now that the wallpaper has been torn off and how different the basement looks now that it’s been finished, and how lonely the house seems without all the stuff that the deceased remembers had once been here, and which he superimposes onto the rooms with his mind, and why is he drawn here again and again, and could he be said to be a kind of ghost himself, an entity who haunts a house that is no longer his but always will be, a place that no longer recognizes him, a home that has died and comes to life only in dreams

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Matthew Vollmer

Matthew Vollmer

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Matthew Vollmer is the author of a story collection, Future Missionaries of America, and is co-editor, with David Shields, of Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts and Other Fraudulent Artifacts, forthcoming from Norton. His work has appeared (or will appear) in magazines such as Paris Review, VQR, Tin House, Epoch, Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, Oxford American, Antioch Review, DIAGRAM, elimae, Willow Springs, and Carolina Quarterly. He teaches in the MFA program at Virginia Tech.